Itâ€™s hard to find an article about Ringo Deathstarr that doesnâ€™t mention the term â€˜shoegazerâ€™ (see, I just did it too).
But the term â€“ coined to describe post-New Wave British indie bands such as The Cure, The Smiths and Creation Record stablemates My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain â€“ just jibes with Ringo Deathstarrâ€™s atmospheric, moody sound.
The band is more than a one-trick pony, however. Guitarist and co-lead vocalist Elliott Frazier unrepentantly cops to his love for the British indie sound, but also lists the Seattle grunge scene of the early 1990s and bands like Nirvana as major influences as well. This is apparent on their debut release â€œColour Tripâ€ in the gritty guitar sound, reminiscent of the Big Muff-laden Seattle sound.
Tonight and tomorrow Northwest fans will get a chance to check out Ringo Deathstarr live on stage opening for fellow Austinites …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead tonight at the Capitol Theater in Olympia and tomorrow at Neumoâ€™s in Seattle.
Frazier â€“ who is joined in Ringo Deathstarr by co-vocalist and bassist Alex Gehring and drummer Daniel Coborn â€“ took time out from persuing the Kurt Cobain and Nirvana exhibit at the Experience Music Project to talk to Northwest Music Scene.
NORTHWEST MUSIC SCENE â€“ First of all tell me about the name. Ringo Deathstarr is one of the cooler band names Iâ€™ve heard in a while. Tell me how you guys came up with that?
ELLIOTT FRAZIER â€“ â€œIt just kind of happened. We were watching that movie â€œDiggâ€ with the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. We had been watching that a bunch and it was a name that was similar to those names. It just seemed like and obvious choice.â€
NWMS â€“ How long has the band been together?
EF â€“ â€œMe and Alex have been together since 2007. Before that I recorded an EP all by myself, kind of waiting on finding bandmates. I just wanted to get the songs recorded. Alex worked in a clothing store I used to shop at and I mentioned I needed a bass player and she said â€˜oh, I play bass. Before 2007 it was just me fucking around with a bunch of people that just didnâ€™t take it seriously.â€
NWMS â€“ Did you immediately start taking it more serious once Alex joined?
EF â€“ â€œIt just kind of happened. She kept showing up to practice and doing the gigs and remembering the songs, that was the most important thing. We just took it from there.â€
NWMS â€“ Austin is known worldwide for itâ€™s music scene. How has that affected or inspired or influenced you?
EF â€“ â€œIâ€™m originally from Beaumont, Texas. I moved to Austin to do photography right after high school. Once I figured out that wasnâ€™t going to work out, I decided to do music. So I made sure I was in Austin for that. There are so many bands in Austin that it doesnâ€™t really matter anymore. People look at Austin from the outside and think itâ€™s a cool music scene, but there is only a handful of good bands. Most of them are really horrible. And thatâ€™s kind of what drove me to start singing and playing guitar in this band. Before that I played drums. I saw so many bands that sucked that I thought, â€˜where is the stuff that I want to hear?â€™ So I just decided to do it myself. Itâ€™s easy to be in a band in Austin for sure. A lot of bosses are cool about letting you take off from work to tour. But anyone can be in a band, but not everyone should be in one.â€
NWMS â€“ Who are your influences? When you started writing songs, who set the template for you?
EF â€“ â€œThe first song I ever wrote I had just listened to Nirvanaâ€™s version of â€œReturn of the Ratâ€ by The Wipers. I wrote a song kind of using that as a template. I discovered 80s British indie music and decided to mix them together a little bit. But I still like to sing with subdued vocals. I donâ€™t like to shout too much. Iâ€™m trying to get to used to those two sides. When I start shouting itâ€™s uncomfortable.â€
NWMS â€“ When you say British indie bands, which ones to you mean?
EF â€“ â€œBands like The Smiths, The Cure, My Bloody Valentine and all those Creation Records. Stuff like Jesus and Mary Chain. All those type bands. And at the same time I was listening to bands like Nirvana. I used to like all the Seattle bands. I was obsessed with knowing everything about them. Then I was obsessed with knowing everything about all the British indie bands. I donâ€™t really read a lot of fiction, itâ€™s mostly musical, non-fiction stuff that I read.â€
NWMS â€“ What are your reading now, is there a book youâ€™re reading while you tour?
EF â€“ â€œWell, I left it at home, but I was reading the Creation Records book called â€œMy Magpie Eyes Are Hungry for the Prize.â€ Itâ€™s a pretty thick book, Iâ€™ve read about half of it and now I have to read the rest of it. My favorite book is â€œOur Band Could Be Your Lifeâ€ by Michael Azerrad. I always keep that around.â€
NWMS â€“ Everyone article Iâ€™ve mentioned about the band somehow manages to work in the word â€˜shoegazerâ€™ to describe the band. How do you feel about that, are you comfortable with that term?
NWMS â€“ â€œI really donâ€™t care either way. Itâ€™s just something people say. Earlier today we were crossing across the border and the guy (border officer) asked what kind of band we were. And Alex was driving and she goes â€œdreamy popâ€. And this old guy doesnâ€™t know what weâ€™re talking about. Weâ€™re just a rock band that plays this certain way.â€
NWMS â€“ This is your guysâ€™ first big tour right?
EF â€“ â€œIn the U.S. yes, but we did a month long tour in Europe before. Now weâ€™re doing it for the first time in the U.S. Before weâ€™d just do the East Coast for two weeks and then go home. Or the West Coast for a week and go home.â€
NWMS â€“ Where you guys friends with …Trail of Dead before this?
EF â€“ â€œKind of sort of. Itâ€™s just one of those things where when I was younger, like 10 years ago, when their big album (2002â€™s â€˜Source Tags and Codesâ€™) came out I was like â€˜itâ€™s so awesome, I wish I could play with them.â€™ Then we started meeting them and playing with them, we did a couple shows at Halloween. Then they wanted to take us on tour, it was kind of a dream come true.â€
NWMS â€“ Tell me a little about your show, whatâ€™s the presentation like?
EF â€“ â€œWe donâ€™t really do the video projector thing. We tried to in the past, but every band thatâ€™s similar to us is doing it. So were just who cares. Everyone is doing it, itâ€™s not cool anymore. Now we just kind of get up there and start playing. And it seems like everybody digs it. Weâ€™re not going up there and doing a rehearsed show. There has to be a connection with the crowd. If thereâ€™s not, it just seems like no fun for anybody.â€
NWMS â€“ So whatâ€™s been the best show so far? Any crowds just knock you out?
EF â€“ â€œThe San Francisco show was pretty good. There were lots of people singing along. Itâ€™s always surprising to see them singing along. We played our own show in El Paso and it was pretty cool. Some guy was singing the songs right in my face the whole time. So I shoved the mic in his face and stepped back. Those are the kind of shows that are fun. When youâ€™re standing up on a stage thatâ€™s five feet off the ground, and the closest person to you is like 10 feet away, thatâ€™s kind of a chore to get up and play. Itâ€™s like â€˜come on stand up here. Donâ€™t be afraid.â€™ Sometimes I think theyâ€™re just afraid of our big amps. They scare people.â€
NWMS â€“ Tell me about the new album. â€˜Colour Tripâ€™ just came out a couple of months ago, right?
EF â€“ â€œWe recorded it about a year ago and it just took forever to get released because of various things, completely and utterly unreleated to the music. Management and other snafus. But once it got all sorted out it came out and weâ€™re excited that people really liked it. We werenâ€™t going out and trying to be any sort of revolutionary band or anything like that. We knew what we were doing, it was just weâ€™re going to do this thing and do it well because itâ€™s fun. Fun is really the only thing that drives us to play. We canâ€™t do anything else but play music. We do it because its fun, not to challenge the listener. I donâ€™t really care about that. But a lot people really look at us through that lens. â€˜What are they really contributing thatâ€™s new?â€™ And the answer is nothing, we arenâ€™t trying to do that.â€
NWMS â€“ Is it hard going out and playing songs that are already a year old. Do they still sound fresh to you or are you tired of them yet?
EF â€“ â€œI donâ€™t know. It kind of changes when you play for new people. You can play a song then all of a sudden you play for new people that have never heard you play. Definitely playing in Austin, it gets old, so we try not to play there that much. But getting out to these cities on this tour, places were weâ€™ve never been, the songs are new again. Luckily they can see us play the song to the best of our abilities, because weâ€™ve played them so many times. I think we play them better now for sure.â€
NWMS â€“ How about the next album, have you already started writing material for that?
EF â€“ â€œSort of. We have a few songs that weâ€™re doing that weâ€™re trying to figure out how to approach recording on the next album. We want to do it completely the opposite of what we did with this album, doing it more live as a band in the studio. Instead of doing drums, then guitars. Just kind of do it together and have it more human sounding maybe.â€
Ringo Deathstarr’s new album, on Sonic Unyon, is available for digital download here.